Good books with humor & wordplay for a 9-year-old
August 9, 2013 9:04 PM   Subscribe

My 9-year-old loved Half Magic, The True Meaning of Smekday, and The Phantom Tollbooth. What else might he like?

My 9-year-old doesn't care much for the straight-ahead action series that the rest of the kids in his circle are reading, the Ranger's Apprentice books and the Percy Jackson novels and that sort of thing. He has recently enjoyed the three books I mentioned, which have in common that they have some humor running through them, which he likes, especially humor with wordplay. What else might I point him toward?

I'm a bit at a loss because I've been pretty much stocking the house with adventure series for years for the benefit of his older brother, and assuming that he would pick up these books as well, and am only belatedly realizing how wrong I was about that.
posted by not that girl to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
A Series of Unfortunate Events would be good. Anything by Daniel Pinkwater. Roald Dahl, especially the Great Glass Elevator. And while it won't keep him occupied for long, any 9-year old who likes wordplay needs a copy of Runny Babbit.
posted by ulotrichous at 9:17 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

James Thurber's kids books might help: The Thirteen Clocks, The White Deer, and The Wonderful O. He also has a book of sort-of-fables, Fables For Our Time.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:29 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Note: If you do go for The Thirteen Clocks, try to get one illustrated by Marc Simont. I can't comment on the new illustrations, but the old ones were grand.)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:32 PM on August 9, 2013

Definitely thinking Roald Dahl.
posted by radioamy at 9:38 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin!

And any of her other books you may come across. She's fantastic.
posted by bibliogrrl at 9:40 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, you might want to pre-test these, but I went gol-dang crazy for Piers Anthony around then. The Xanth books are comic fantasy books that are extremely heavy on puns. Complete pulp, completely upbeat fantasy, but they might suit. (A minor derail from your question, but there a recent episode of This American Life documented how one lonely teenage fan flew to Anthony's place to try and live with him.)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:40 PM on August 9, 2013

"A Spell for Chameleon" is the first book of a very, very long series by Piers Anthony, which happen to be appropriate for kids. They're loaded with puns.

(Warning: Not everything by Piers Anthony is suitable for children; for instance, some parts of the "Tarot" series are indistinguishable from hard core porn.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:41 PM on August 9, 2013

Listen, Redwall will be crack to him. Give him Redwall.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:56 PM on August 9, 2013

Diana Wynne Jones, while certainly a writer who liked a good bit of adventure, was also very big on weaving in other material as well. Howl's Moving Castle (from which the Miyazaki film is loosely derived) or The Ogre Downstairs would be good places to start. (Interested in Norse Myth? Eight Days of Luke. Interested in faeries? Fire and Hemlock. Both of these however, are less humorous.)

When your child gets a bit older, drop Discworld on him.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:01 PM on August 9, 2013

Patricia C Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, beginning with Dealing with Dragons. Tons of fun--I read them when I was 10 or so, enjoyed them, and I've re-read them every 5 years or so and always loved it.
posted by Slinga at 10:05 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Holy beans! To follow up my mention of The Thirteen Clocks, it turns out that there is a completely free, digitized, illustrated version at Awesome.)
posted by Going To Maine at 10:05 PM on August 9, 2013

Redwall is mostly adventure, but has some funny characters. The YA Pratchett - the Tiffany Aching books - would probably be perfect. He's got a bunch of other YA stuff which I haven't read, but I have never read *bad* Pratchett.

Piers Anthony's Xanth stuff is probably only suitable if you're prepared to have lots of conversations about gender roles, objectification, etc. I read them at 9 or 10 or so, and devoured them for four or five years, but everything else he's written that I've reread recently is fucking appalling and I can't imagine the Xanth books are much, if any, better.

Which, actually looking at who posted this, is totally something you can handle and might even be a decent jumping-off point for discussion, but it might make you nauseous enough that it's not worth it.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:10 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Redwall as well as Roald Dahl came to mind for me as well.

Maybe The Dark is Rising? (Susan Cooper)

Also maybe Gaiman. Try The Graveyard Book.

The Egypt Game and The Westing House and The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler also.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:10 PM on August 9, 2013

Sideways Stories from Wayside School and its sequels are pretty fun that way.
posted by karbonokapi at 10:21 PM on August 9, 2013

Daniel Pinkwater!
posted by kelseyq at 10:21 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Piers Anthony's Xanth stuff is probably only suitable if you're prepared to have lots of conversations about gender roles, objectification, etc. I read them at 9 or 10 or so, and devoured them for four or five years, but everything else he's written that I've reread recently is fucking appalling and I can't imagine the Xanth books are much, if any, better

A modest counterpoint to this, though I certainly agree that you should have some familiarity with Xanth material in advance: I can't say that reading those books resulted in my having any awkward conversations about gender roles with my folks back when, or my flipping out in any marked way. Mileage will vary based on your child.

& Daniel Pinkwater & Roald Dahl! Oh my, yes.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:25 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

All of L Frank Baum's fantasy. He loved puns.From the Sea Fairies:"They called him Caesar just because he took everything he could lay hands on"
posted by brujita at 11:08 PM on August 9, 2013

If he's okay with somewhat scary stuff (though always with happy endings, and with a wide vein of humor running through), I thoroughly recommend the works of John Bellairs. I read the covers off my copy of The House with a Clock in its Walls when I was nine and still enjoy rereading the books now that I'm thirty.
posted by darchildre at 11:21 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Paul Jennings is an Australian author that excelled in quirky, off-the-wall writing. His stories have a lot of twists. They are humorous and often a little gross, sometimes. They remind me a lot of Roald Dahl's books, and little boys tend to love them. He has a lot of short story collections, but he also did a couple of series, like Singenpoo and Gizmo.
posted by Dimes at 11:49 PM on August 9, 2013

Bruce Coville!
posted by clerestory at 1:55 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Edith Nesbit! Start with "The Five Children and It". The wordplay is a little subtler than the books you mentioned, but still there.
posted by kyrademon at 3:26 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

+1 to Paul Jennings. Excellent stuff. I would steer well clear of Piers Anthony's Xanth series unless you're happy to introduce him to the concept of rape, but his Incarnations of Immortality series is suitable. Nine is the perfect age to start on Discworld by Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.
posted by goo at 4:56 AM on August 10, 2013

The book Journey to the Blue Moon: In Which Time Was Lost and Then Found Again is full of the same sort of wordplay as The Phantom Tollbooth.

Disclaimer: it is published by the company I work for. But it's really good.
posted by cider at 4:58 AM on August 10, 2013

There's a lot of weird sex stuff in Piers Anthony's Xanth series. Like there's a book about panties, a ghost whose magic power is being sexy, and in Spell for Chameleon there's two rapes-- one is kind of offscreen because it involves a love spring, and the other involves a smart but stupid girl named Wynne. Wynne's deal is that she's actually Chsmeleon and over the month she cycles from nice/pretty/stupid to bitchy/ugly/smart. Kinda like REAL women, amirite? There are some specific titles that were really good in that series, like A Crewel Lye, but even in that one Threnody gets turned into a guy and is all omg I want to rape EVERYONE. Sooooo it's an accurate intro to the fucked up boys club of mainstream fantasy? I guess?

Anywho, at that age I really liked Eyes of the Dragon, and Madeline Lengle. I also really liked Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams, and the Warriors series (about cat clan wars --basically mini-mafia wars).
posted by spunweb at 6:06 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh and in the Incarnations series there's a lot of weird sec stuff too -- like a teen prostitute described as having a touch of Negroid about her (I wish I was lying) has an affair with a really old guy, and goes to a magic space thing, where time stops for her and goes like normal for him, so when she leaves, she's not 13 she's 16 and they can have sex. And there's another character named Orlene who gets turned into a dude who's again all, " having a penis makes want to rape everyone!!"
posted by spunweb at 6:12 AM on August 10, 2013

Zetta Elliot has some good stuff out, too, and Salsa Nocturna by Daniel Jose Older is really great. It's an anthology and I'm linking you to one of the short stories.

There's also Sideways Stories from Wayside School.
posted by spunweb at 6:23 AM on August 10, 2013

Greg Van Eekhout! The Boy at the End of the World is amazing, a touch weird, and hilarious.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:48 AM on August 10, 2013

Has he read the rest of the Half Magic series? They're just as good. Knight's Castle and especially the Time Garden were my favorites.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:49 AM on August 10, 2013

Response by poster: Excellent ideas, thanks! Some of these I knew and had forgotten about, and others are new to me. A great pile of stuff to get started on.
posted by not that girl at 6:50 AM on August 10, 2013

Pinkwater is the best and basically all of his books are great for this, some more awesome than others but all sort of on topic. I really enjoyed the mystery aspect to The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) for this sort of thing, even though it's a pretty old book.
posted by jessamyn at 7:34 AM on August 10, 2013

Books I mentally bracketed with The Phantom Tollbooth as a child were My Friend Mr Leakey by J. B. S. Haldane and The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley.

All three stand out in my memory as whimsical, and in a similar vein I'd suggest Norman Hunter's Incrediblania stories, The Rose and the Ring by W.M. Thackeray, J. P. Martin's Uncle books (link is to a successful Kickstarter for a full reprint, yay; scroll down for a good description), the Thurber books you've already been recommended, E. Nesbit's magic-centered novels and short stories, and (more recent) the Edge Chronicles series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell.

Speaking of Paul Stewart, I don't remember his The Thought Domain well, but I do remember that when I read it I thought it had been inspired by The Phantom Tollbooth. And as it turns out, that was the author's favourite book as a child (fourth question), so I could well have been right.

Finally, although her books are less whimsical, Diana Wynne Jones is well worth discovering. I'd suggest The Ogre Downstairs, Eight Days of Luke, A Tale of Time City and Archer's Goon in particular, as they all feature a degree of wordplay in the naming of people and things - though not always in English, which made for some nice "click!" moments as I got older and studied Latin (and more when I reread The Ogre Downstairs after learning the Greek alphabet).
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:18 AM on August 10, 2013

Oh, hey, also, the Asterix books are full of wordplay and humour!
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:23 AM on August 10, 2013

Thanks for asking this. I've been looking for some new reads for my 8.5 yr old pun loving son, who has also been through Phantom, a handful of the Dahl and Wayside School suggestions, and Half Magic. Alice and Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have been my his favorite read aloud stories since he was about five. Luckily I'm fond of these books as well, after having read them to him at least a half dozen times each. Not sure if Alice would be appealing for your son, the language can be a bit archaic, but the puns are definitely entertaining. He also enjoyed Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's Far Flung Adventures books (Corby Flood, Hugo Pepper and Fergus Crane) and the Whole 'Nother Story trilogy by Dr. Cuthbert Soup.
posted by Talullah at 1:20 PM on August 10, 2013

For a book that is literally about the love of language and stories, filled with delicious wordplay, Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a dizzying delight.
posted by Hogshead at 2:27 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

My 8-year-old girl currently likes:

--The Terry Pratchett Tiffany Aching books and any of the Discworld books involving Granny Weatherwax; the others not so much yet
--Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (there are 4 books in the series)
--Narnia (which she's consumed the last 6 books in the space of 24 hours, I think)
--Some of the books by Tamora Pierce (the "Circle of Magic" series especially, but that's what we had lying around)
--Boxcar Children (although they're pretty easy for her now, and don't involve wordplay)
--Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen by Garth Nix---totally obsessed, to the extent that she's running around with a wooden sword
--Anne of Green Gables

--She liked some of the "Series of Unfortunate Events" ok, but didn't get obsessed.

Mind you, she's a pretty girly-girl and really prefers female protagonists. So your son might not like these as much.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:05 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pssst. I'm on my IPad, but J B S Haldane's My Friend Mr. Leakey is available on the web as a pdf file. Just do a search.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:59 PM on August 11, 2013

Just because of this thread, I finally dug up my old Xanth books and reread the first one. It's even worse than I thought. I am downgrading my recommendation to "avoid at all costs."
posted by restless_nomad at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

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